They just keep getting younger: 10-year-old Latanna Stone makes history

In June, 14-year-old, Andy Zhang became the youngest player to qualify and play in the US Open.  This week another young golfer makes news.  Latanna Stone, age 10, qualified for the US Women’s Amateur.

When I heard about Andy Zhang I thought he was too young.  I was curious what a few of the golf experts I follow on twitter thought of his age.  I sent a tweet and got a reply from Stina Sternberg, Senior Editor, Golf Digest.  Below is the twitter conversation.

Twitter conversation with Stina SternbergI was a bit surprised by Stina Sternberg’s reply.  I still felt that 14 was too young.  My opinion is that 18 would be a reasonable age requirement.  After all, the USGA has “age limits” for other championships (e.g. junior and senior events).

When I saw the news this week that a 10-year-old made the US Women’s Amateur, I said out loud (to myself) — “ridiculous.”  I have no doubt the young girl is very talented but I just don’t agree with a 10-year-old competing in the event.

You might have caught that in the tweet above, Sternberg said “If you qualify, I don’t care if you are 10…”  So imagine my surprise when I saw this tweet from Sternberg…

Stina Sternberg wrote a great article about Latanna Stone.  Sternberg explains Stone’s background and highlights the fact this young girl is home schooled and has a  “professional website”.  Sternberg suggests it is time for the “USGA to revisit its own regulations.”  Sternberg goes on to state that the USGA should have them “wait until they’re at least 14 to qualify for the U.S. Amateur.”  I still think 14 is too young but I’m glad to see Sternberg does feel 10-years-old is too young.

I know it is common for kids today to spend a lot of time playing and practicing their chosen sport.  My friends with kids spend hours traveling around on weekends to take the kids to soccer, basketball, baseball, and hockey games.  But, these kids compete against other kids.  I support all the AJGA (American Junior Golf Association) competitions and the USGA’s junior competitions where young golfers compete against their peers.

So why the urgency to play in the other events?  Because the can? Only the young golfer (and the parents) know the real motivation.  I must admit I wonder if the parents worry about their child suffering from burnout or repetitive motion injuries (which could happen just when they should be peaking for a professional career.)

The bottom line is that until the age limits change these kids have a right to play in the events.  It’s impossible to deny the amazing talent they posses.  So, congratulations to these young golfers for making it to the highest level of amateur golf.  I just hope these young golfers get to be “kids” too!

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The LPGA’s Funny Girl – Tiffany Joh

Another US Women’s Open has come to a close and most bloggers will be writing about the winner, Na Yeon Choi but I’m going to highlight a player that did not even make the cut — American golfer, Tiffany Joh.  Why?  Because, whether it is intentional or not — she is in the process of building a unique personal brand.

This year Joh is struggling a bit with her game and is 115 in the Rolex World Rankings.  However, Joh is a solid player and shows promise.  Joh won twice on the LPGA’s Future tour.  As a member of the LPGA 2011 Rookie Class, Joh had an excellent year with $237,365 in earnings and ranked eighty-seven (87) on the Rolex Women’s World Golf rankings list.  Joh also had a top 10 finish in 2012.  She was second at the Navistar Classic.  Unfortunately for Joh, it was the tournament Lexi Thompson (Golf’s newly anointed “phenom”) made history as the youngest winner (at age 16) on the LPGA.

So what makes Joh unique?  The PGA may have the Golf Boys but the LPGA has Tiffany Joh.  She loves music and has become known for her music videos.  This week, the week of the 2012 US Women’s Open, she posted her most recent video on her YouTube channel (Just Your Morning Cup of Joh.)   The video is All I Do is Win (LPGA Remix).  A parody of the song, “All I Do is Win” by Ludacris.

Joh has had a YouTube channel since 2008 but she really got noticed for her LPGA video last year “Grip It” (a parody of Freak Nasty’s 1996 hit song “Da’ Dip”).  It’s amazing how she get’s her fellow LPGA players to be silly on video.

Not only is she clever and creative with music videos but she has a great channel title “Just your morning cup of Joh” and user name “CupofJoh” and has a cartoon-like drawing (self-portrait – I’m guessing) and uses it as her YouTube channel and Twitter background.  All creating a unique personal brand.

The one thing that surprised me is that her website does not carry this branding.  However, if you visit the website, Joh’s humor and attitude come through loud and clear with just a single page stating “You are a Nerd…Websites are for Nerds.”  Is she ahead of the curve or just representative of her generation who live on social media?  I believe it is the later.  After all, the websites of the big golf stars are supported by big sponsor money.  So Joh’s site may get an upgrade if she lands a major sponsor.

It’s not just that Joh is using social media but she is savvy too — do you think the timing of the recent video was a fluke? No way.  The US Women’s open gets more press than any other women’s golf event and Joh’s video was all over twitter (at least the people who tweet about golf).

As I mentioned earlier, Joh did not make the cut at the US Women’s Open but her sense of humor never fails.  Here is a screen shot of her tweet from the airport the next day:

Tweet from Tiffany Joh on Missing Cut at US Women's Open

If you are old school and think golfers should only get noticed for their golf achievements than Tiffany Joh’s style may not be your “cup of tea” (or joh); but I respect the fact that she has developed a personal brand that sets herself apart from all the other young female golfers on tour.

The LPGA’s Marketing Challenge

The LPGA has a challenging issue in the American market.  The challenge is to change the perception of the LPGA in the mind of the average American golf fan.

What is really behind this challenge?  Let me share a recent conversation I had with other golfers on the Wednesday before the Wegmans LPGA Championship.  I was playing golf with a group of women (all play a lot of golf and are passionate about their sport).  I asked if they watched the LPGA and they all said no because the top 10 women golfers are all Korean.  Their perception is that the LPGA is becoming an Asian tour.  Their declaration that the top 10 players are all Korean is not correct. They were surprised when I told them both Stacy Lewis and Christie Kerr are in the top 10 of the world rankings; and that Stacy Lewis had won two of the last three LPGA events.

On Thursday, I started watching the Wagmens LPGA Championship.  It looked like an American might actually win this major tournament; Paul Creamer, Christie Kerr, and Stacy Lewis were playing well.  Then, on Sunday,  a Chinese player, Shanshan (Jenny) Feng shot an amazing 67 and won.  She is the first Chinese player to win but this means that the current title holders for the four LPGA majors are all Asian (from Korea, Taiwan, and China), and this is “the story” that is focused on in the media.

On the golf channel, both Ron Sirak and Tom Rosenforte raised the issue of what Feng’s win means for the LPGA.  Ron Sirak even suggested that it might mean the LPGA Championship could be held in China in the near future.  In Beth Ann Baldry’s GolfWeek online article she also pondered what Feng’s win means… “For all we know, decades from now this tour might be based in China. Crazier things have happened.”  These golf commentators are adding fuel to the fire and provide even more proof of the “image battle” facing the LPGA marketing team.

So what’s the LPGA to do?  They have tried very hard to position the tour as a “global” tour and promoted Yani Tseng so that fans can embrace her.  This is an important message because the huge growth in golf will be from markets like China.  But frankly, that doesn’t really help with the immediate (and sensitive) image issue facing the tour in its key market, the United States.

It is important to give credit where credit is due and the leaders of the LPGA are reinvigorating the tour overall. For example, they have added events, gotten new sponsors, and they have a really great new marketing campaign for 2012 —  “See why it is different out here.”  I promise, you will enjoy the video below.

They also have embraced social media as I highlighted in my previous blog post “Funny Tweets from LPGA Golfers.”

Now this is all great but the problem is that the message is not getting out to the average golf fan (at least not where I live).  The ads I see for the LPGA are only on the golf channel and mostly shown during coverage of the LPGA.

So what is the LPGA to do?  Well, here are a few suggestions.

  1. Get the Golf Channel to show the new ad campaign during broadcasts of the other tours; especially the PGA.  I get why the new ads are shown during LPGA coverage, but to me this is “preaching to the choir.”  As a marketing professional, this has always been a “pet peeve” of mine — showing ads that are intended to reach new customers to viewers already engaged with your product.
  2. Target an ad campaign to the viewers that “long for the days of Nancy Lopez.”  Heck, get Nancy to do some ads to promote the new breed of American players.  The message is that if you liked Nancy Lopez, then watch Stacy Lewis.  Which brings me to the next issue.
  3. Promote the heck out of your top American players.  Stacy Lewis is #2 in the Rolex world rankings — make a big deal of it.  Play off the developing competition between Stacy Lewis and Cristie Kerr to be the top American.  It’s great that the golf announcers talk about it during the broadcast but take advantage of it in your marketing (use all that great TV footage for some great viral videos).
  4. Expand social media and create a Pinterest strategy.  First, I give credit to the LPGA for having an official Pinterest page; but it has no strategy to engage Pinterest users. The strategy right now looks like they just put up some images as placeholders. They are missing a huge opportunity to brand the LPGA (as well as women and golf)  on a social media site whos biggest demographic is women. I can think of lots of quick wins for their Pinterest presence.
  5. It’s great that the LPGA has embraced Twitter with their players; but now it’s time to see if they can get some love from their brothers on the PGA. The young golfers on the PGA tour “are champions” (excuse the pun) at tweeting and some of the PGA players have huge followings.  I am curious if PGA players follow the LPGA.  If yes, see if they will tweet about it.
  6. Focus on grassroots marketing (and not just when the LPGA is in town for a tournament).  Basically create an outreach program with content that golf associations can use in their eMarketing channels.  There are many golf organizations that are key influencers in their markets and could be the local cheerleaders of the LPGA but they need to be given the messaging and the stories to push.

This blog post may seem like I’m on my soapbox but it just irks me that the golf media has to keep the focus on the large number of Asian players on the LPGA.  Since the media is determined to keep it as a top story; it is up to the tour to create the stories to give the home fans something to embrace.  Many of the American LPGA players are trying hard to step-up and compete (should I say it again, Stacy Lewis is #2 in the world) so they are doing their part.

Golf fans are passionate about their sport and usually have a favorite player (or players) that they follow.  For golf fans that like to cheer for the “home town players,” the LPGA has a lot of great American players to promote in the US market.  Golf fans love to watch great drama unfold during tournament play.  The LPGA has all these things, but right now it seems to be the best kept secret from the average golf fan.

Funny tweets from LPGA golfers

I have been following a number of the LPGA players on twitter and it is really amazing how much information they share about their personal lives.  Yes, they do promote events they are attending and products they use (or should I say endorse) but overall the tweets are not commercial.  In fact, many of the ladies are quite funny.

The best tweets involve photos, food and/or drink, insider jokes, and conversations between players.  Below are some examples.  If you are not familiar with Twitter, I’ll do my best to explain.  One thing to keep in mind is that anytime you see a twitter handle (like @ChristinaKim) just replace it with a name.  Here we go….

Here is a tweet from Christina Kim that represents it all (Photo, Food, Humor – self-deprecation).  Kim replied to a tweet from Nicole Hage.  Hage tweeted a photo showing her recent baking efforts.  Hage says “all done” (and includes a photo) and Kim replies ” You bake, and look like you….”

Christina Kim Tweet to Hage

Now, Kim has been tweeting a lot about her workouts at the gym (which adds to this already funny tweet.)  If you don’t know this…in the tweet above, there is a photo, Kim is the women in the front (that’s Michelle Wei behind her and the photo is from the Solheim Cup).

Nicole Hage

Here is a Photo of Nicole Hage.  I had to add the photo because Kim said  “you bake, and look like you” (so I know my readers would ask, so what does Nicole Hage look like).

Now, many of you who read my blog know I have written about slow play and how it is bad for the game.  So here is a funny tweet between two players about the time it took to play a Pro-Am tournament.

Suzann Petterson Tweet on Pro-AMChristina Kim reply to Pro-Am As you can see, Kim’s reply comes after Pettersens’ text..5:50, Stop exaggerating. Ugh!  The joke is self-evident.  Hopefully, now you get how to read the tweets.

Below is a “tweet conversation” that I loved because the players are exchanging a bit of “teasing” before a match.  Sophie Gustafson and Karen Stupples were scheduled to go head-to-head in match play (this was tweeted the night before the match).

Tweet between Gustafson and Stupples

Gustafson Foot Photo

And, Gustafson attached photo of her foot…to which, Karen later tweeted..love the golf tan.

Here is a great tweet from Karen Stupples regarding a rain delay.

Stupples tweet about rain delay in NJ

I guess as a traveling golfer you see it all.  Here is a photo tweeted from Rachel Connor.

Connor Tweet on Airplane

And how about this tweet from Sophie Gustafson at an airport terminal.  I can’t attach the video but here is a still of the object on the luggage carousel (yup, it’s a Heinken)

Gustafson Video Tweet

There are so many more good tweets I could show but this post would just get too long.  I want to end with two that are not really “funny” like the ones about; but show the great support these players give each other (as friends) on tour.

Kerr tweet to GulbisLincicome Tweet Congrats to OToole

This week, at the ShopRite tournament, the LPGA will promote the use of twitter by adding player’s twitter handles to name tags that go on the back of the caddie’s bib.  Now, as a fan, I already follow my favorites. So the bibs are interesting but I’m not sure it will get me to follow more.  As a marketing professional, I say “good for the LPGA for trying something new;” and I will be interested to see if it impacts individual player’s (i.e. will they get more followers.)  I plan to do my own research and see if I see any spikes in followers for the players.  By the way, the LPGA did tweet about the new name tags.

LPGA Photo Tweet

Finally, are you wondering which LPGA player has the most followers?  Well, it is Natalie Gulbis with 115,855 followers (as of May 28 at 2:38 pm).  This doesn’t surprise me given I wrote a blog post titled “Natalie Gulbis – This golfer is a savvy Marketer.”

Golf pundits all a “Twitter” about Jason Gore

Golf is often given the bad rap of being a traditional “old boys” sport so I am not surprised by that the fact the big story today is that Jason Gore was given a sponsors exemption because of Twitter — Golf fans are not so old school after all. No surprise to a fan like me!

If you don’t know the score…back on January 6, Jason Gore sent out a tweet that he was signing up for the Northern Trust Open (Feb 14 to 19) qualifying event and tweeted he’d be “stoked” to get a sponsor’s invitation.  His fans delivered with a twitter campaign that filled the Northern Trust Twitter page with support for Gore.  Just 6 days later, Northern Trust sent out a tweet that Jason Gore is awarded an exemption.

Why I am writing about it? Because my profession is online marketing and it was fun to see how all this played out.  By the way, it didn’t hurt to have media outlets like the Golf Channel commentators talking about the twitter campaign on TV over the last few days (before Northern Golf make a decision) and giving it even more exposure.  Northern Trust got it right — They listened to the golf fans and gave them what they wanted — an exemption for Gore.  Now, Northern Trust also got what every company loves — lots of free press! And, it’s good press.

But the most important outcome is that a guy who is ranked 643 in the world and did not qualify for the PGA Tour this year got his wish thanks to his fans and twitter.